Author Topic: Anyone here experienced with neck tumors in senior rats, or hind leg degen?  (Read 702 times)

Offline sujamma

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Hey everybody. My oldest rat (2.5 y/o), Darcy, has had this neck tumor since September of last year. The vet noticed it first, said it was probably benign and said to only bring him back if it ever becomes a problem for him, and at the time I could hardly feel it -- it was smaller than a pea -- but now it has slowly but surely grown into a heavy lump hanging off the side of his neck. I'm also suspecting hind leg degeneration. My main goal is to hear similar experiences, if I can do anything for him, and any outcomes I should expect when I can get to a vet (such as, is surgery still a viable option for his age and this type of tumor?).
I will include pictures for reference at the end of the post.

So I had an appointment to get this looked at in early April, when he was still pretty active around the cage, scheduled a day after my mom's trip out of state, but my mom came home in a leg brace and incapacitated from what we thought was a leg injury she worsened by hiking while away, so we canceled it with the intention of remaking it when she could drive again, seeing as I don't have my license yet. Fast forward to April 22nd, my mom was then hospitalized for a heart attack due to several blood clots misdiagnosed as a torn ligament that traveled up to her lungs and surrounded her heart, a very traumatic and upsetting experience, and we have been slow in recovery from it all since then.

And that brings us to today. Now that things have been slowing down this past week, so has Darcy. He began struggling to climb and get around the most I'd say within the last 14 days or so, but up until then he seemed to be getting around fine. Sometimes I find him with his head propped beside the wall and the corner of his litter tray, supported by the girth of the tumor, but most of the time he's sleeping on his back or curled up in his space pod, positioned on the ground for easy access. He doesn't leave the bottom level of his cage at all now. I don't know when I can get him to a vet, because we're still waiting on the doctor to give my mom the green light to drive again, which may be soon but our fingers are crossed.

He is important to my mom, because she picked him out and we share him together, and after all she's been through, I especially want to make sure our little guy is happy and healthy.
Here are the photos I took of the tumor, under the cut.

(click to show/hide)

And possible evidence of hind leg degeneration? For anyone experienced with that.

(click to show/hide)

Offline BigBen

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The neck tumor, if the vet considers it operable, can certainly be removed, and the vet can tell you how well Darcy is likely to stand up to surgery.  General anesthesia is always a risk, but I have had successful operations performed on rats that age.

More concerning to me is the possible hind-end degeneration (HED).  All the cases I have encountered where I suspected HED turned out to be pituitary tumors instead, so be sure the vet diagnoses the condition carefully.  One possible diagnostic tool might be to give him a shot of dexamethasone.  If you then notice a clear improvement, usually within an hour or two, suspect a PT.  If he does have a PT there are medications he can be given, but they are not cheap, and such a tumor is inoperable.

If the vet sees no indication of PT, then by all means consider having the neck tumor removed, because Darcy could easily live another six months, and being freee of the tumor would greatly enhance his quality of life.  HED is no obstacle to enjoying life; many rats cope with it quite well.  You can even try giving him liquid vitamin B-12, since it can sometimes help the nerve degeneration that is the cause of HED.

I am afraid, however, that even on the best of the available medications (Cabergoline), a rat with PT doesn't have all that much longer to live, and in such a case I personally would not put the poor guy through surgery.  Instead, I would make him comfortable for however much time he had left, and I would put him to sleep at the first sign of decline.  Especially where PT is concerned, it is far better to put a rat to sleep a bit too soon than to wait too long.  An advanced-stage PT is a horrible way to die.  There are two medications for PT, if you want to try them:  one is bromocriptine, which is the standard drug for PT in human beings; the other is Cabergoline, which is considered to be more effective.  The latter drug, however, costs three or four times as much (or did, the last time I priced it), and some people feel that it is not enough more effective to be worth the extra cost.  In any case, whichever drug you try can only prolong life, not heal the tumor, unfortunately.

I'm sorry for the depressing message, but best you be prepared.  I will pray that your handsome boy only has HED, and can have many more months to enjoy your love and your mother's. :heart:
What is a rat?  King-sized love in a pint-sized package.
RatCode:  1m0f18r !B C? D+ F S-- ocA reC sM a+++ e++++ n

Offline Been to the Mountaintop

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One of my favorite rat vets is a woman who was head of her graduating vet class in the 70s! Here's a post from years ago you may find helpful in assessing the HED.

My beloved old neuter Gabe was dragging his back flipper feet and began to sway his butt from side to side when he "walked." The HED seemed so extreme that I feared it was a spinal injury instead so took him in for a followup appt. The vet did three very commonsense tests we can do at home:
1. She put him on the floor and watched him move, pointing out that although the gait was not normal like a young rat, it was symmetrical--same problems on both sides.
2. On the exam table, she very gently poked the bottom of each foot with her finger nail to see if he would react. He did each time, pulling his foot and leg away.
3. She then took the back foot which was currently correctly "palm" down and gently turned it over so it was facing palm up. He righted it when she let the leg go.
She concluded that he has feeling in his feet and legs, and the ability to operate them. He just has the weakness of HED.
--Best, Mountaintop--

Offline sujamma

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Sorry for the delay, but thank you so much for your replies! Your advice has really helped. I have moved Darcy into a single-level cage tonight with a low hammock, and he seems very happy at the moment. My mom has been given the clear to drive short distances, so by Tuesday I will call the vet and see if we can get in sometime soon with all your information in mind. :party:

@BigBen,
I wish I had talked to you about HED earlier, because I had no idea about the benfits of liquid vitamin B12 for this condition when my other rat was dealing with that and arthritis in his hip. Thank you! I will definitely be trying that, if it does indeed turn out to be HED. What dosage do you recommend a day?

As for PT, I will not rule that out. Darcy's biological brother died of PT at 1 1/2 years old, on the 22nd of August last year, so it is definitely a possibility I've kept in mind. Having witnessed the suffering of that once, I hope to act sooner than I did then if I ever encounter another PT again. So far, Darcy is still eating his food, but he pins it down to do so and right now I'm hoping all that is is due to not being able to balance very well on his back feet from the HED because my other rat with it, Bard, would lie his belly over the edge of his bed to eat his food without wobbling and could hold it just fine that way, while my PT rat simply couldn't eat at all without the help of a syringe.

@Been to the Mountaintop,
I will try this, and remember it for the future too! Thank you!

Hopefully I'll have an update for you both sometime soon. :BlueDumboSmile:

Offline sujamma

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Bonus photos from tonight:





He loves his peas. :yelcutelaugh:

Offline BigBen

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. . .

@BigBen,
I wish I had talked to you about HED earlier, because I had no idea about the benfits of liquid vitamin B12 for this condition when my other rat was dealing with that and arthritis in his hip. Thank you! I will definitely be trying that, if it does indeed turn out to be HED. What dosage do you recommend a day?

. . .

A drop of liquid B12 once or twice a day.
What is a rat?  King-sized love in a pint-sized package.
RatCode:  1m0f18r !B C? D+ F S-- ocA reC sM a+++ e++++ n

Offline sujamma

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Hey guys, got back from the vet yesterday and I have an update as promised.

So, the doctor told me he most likely has a slow metastasizing cancerous tumor, not a benign one like we previously thought. He said he can't be 100% for sure about that, of course, but he thinks it's connected to the tissue. He doesn't suspect PT, however, and he thinks the hind leg issue is most likely due to old age like I suspected but he also couldn't rule out the tumor interfering with the spine either. Otherwise, he's eating and drinking still and though he lost a considerable amount of weight, he's still got quality of life for the time being. Needless to say, I decided against surgery.

He offered pain medication as an option, but he said only if I think he's in pain but I honestly can't tell so he said for me to call in any time if I suspect I need them. What do you guys think I should do? The only hallmark signs I know to look for as far as pain is labored breathing and lethargy... are there any other signs? I mean, he doesn't move around a whole lot, but that could be due to inactivity from his hind leg or from the weight of the tumor slowing him down. When I offer him lab blocks, he lifts his head but doesn't open his mouth for it, and doesn't touch it when I put it down, which is unlike him. He will eat lab blocks on his own time, though. Peas, lettuce, blueberries and other goodies, however, are another story; he still jumps at the chance to eat those.

Other than that, I'll still try the B12 like you advised. I worry about his weight loss, so aside from syringe feeding Ensure (he most likely won't cooperate with syringe feed at this stage, since he can still eat on his own), are there any ratty super foods or treats that will keep the weight on him that he won't resist eating? Unless that would just feed the tumor and make it bigger? I dunno if there might be anything else that might help in this scenario to make him comfortable.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2017, 08:18:14 AM by sujamma »

Offline Ratdaddy

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If you want to supplement Darcy's diet with Ensure but don't want to syringe feed, here's something I've done with my rats.  Take a lab block or two and put them in a plastic storage bag.  Then place it on the counter and crush it by rolling a jar (or rolling pin) over it.  Once you've crushed it into a fine powder, you can mix it with the Ensure into a paste that you can put in a dish and Darcy can help himself.

Offline BigBen

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I'm sorry to hear this sad news.   :(

In this situation, there is no point worrying about a proper diet; just give Darcy whatever makes him happy.  Easily-eaten stuff that he might enjoy includes whipped cream, yoghurt, small pieces of cooked meat (stay away from processed meats and sausage--you might overwhelm his system with too much salt), grapes and cherry tomatoes (cut them in half; rats often don't like biting through the skin), Yogies, muffin chunks or waffle pieces (small ones, so he won't choke on them), and so on.  Go for the high-caloric stuff, since the tumor will compete with the rest of his body for nutrition.  Ratdaddy's suggestion of adding crushed lab blocks to the Ensure is a good one, and you don't have to feed it by syringe--I was just suggesting that because it sounded as though he was having trouble eating--if he can drink it from a bowl.

P.S.--How 'bout some more pix of that handsome man-rat? :poke: :poke: :poke:

What is a rat?  King-sized love in a pint-sized package.
RatCode:  1m0f18r !B C? D+ F S-- ocA reC sM a+++ e++++ n

Offline mamarat2

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You might try grabbing a few jars of baby food from the store, that is always an easy meal for rat kids that aren't doing well with the harder blocks. Plus you can get quite a variety that way.  Baby cereal mixed with ensure is also a tasty option.
Interested in adopting?  Check out Small Angels

www.smallangelsrescue.org

Offline sujamma

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Thank you so much, everybody - I mean it. I'll heed all of your tips in this precious time. To you, BigBen, you, among others, have always been such a great help every time I've posted here the past 2.5 years. :heart:
And because you asked, here are some more Darcy pics. :hyper:





 :BlueDumboSmileTongue:




 
:BlueDumboSmile:



Baby photos next!!



The first day I brought him home...



His feet were so big compared to his body!
That's his brother Leo behind him making a mess of the fleece with his food, by the way.  :BlueDumboSmile: :cookie:





I'll stop here, or else I'd just keep going!! :yelcutelaugh:
It always makes me happy to share pictures of my boys. :BlueDumboSmile:

Offline mamarat2

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Interested in adopting?  Check out Small Angels

www.smallangelsrescue.org

Offline BigBen

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What a handsome boy, and full of personality, too! :heart:
What is a rat?  King-sized love in a pint-sized package.
RatCode:  1m0f18r !B C? D+ F S-- ocA reC sM a+++ e++++ n

Offline Been to the Mountaintop

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He is so cute! Many rats seem like old souls in a young body. He seems like the opposite--a baby faced man rat.  :heart:
--Best, Mountaintop--